How did I do with my “30 before 30” list?
Last month I turned 30! I marked it with this blog post looking back on my big pre-30 travel goals, and a black-tie murder mystery party for 30 of my family and closest friends, deep in the Surrey countryside in my aunt’s beautiful garden. The weather was ridiculously good, the actors I hired to run the mystery were hilarious, the guests looked stunning, the 5-course meal prepared by my mother and I went down a treat, and we polished off the celebrations with a country walk and pub lunch the next day – it was absolutely everything I’d hoped for, and the satisfying result of over a year’s preparation since I first had the idea. See the full Instagram story of the party here.
I felt more nervous about my 29th birthday in 2018 than I did this year about reaching the arguably more important milestone of 30, so 12 months ago I concocted all sorts of ways to prepare myself mentally for the new decade. It seems to have worked, as I’m feeling pretty chilled and happy with 30 so far! One such way was organising the birthday, the logistics of which were more complex than I’d first thought!
Another way was the creation of my ‘30 Before 30’ list of 30 smaller things to do in the final year of my twenties. I borrowed the idea from my friend Ellie and have other friends who’ve also adopted the challenge, and we motivate each other to keep on track! So having completed the year, how much did I manage of my 30 Before 30 list?
I managed 28 out of the 30, which I am incredibly proud of! The two I didn’t quite manage were kayaking on the Thames and horse-riding, which I still don’t have any plans to do anytime soon – but I can definitely live with that, as I have done both of those activities in the past anyway.
The objective behind the list wasn’t to always push myself towards difficult or challenging achievements – that’s what my travel wishlist is for. This list was instead to make sure the year was fun, varied and, as it was my second year back in London, to ensure life didn’t get monotonous or repetitive. I struggle to stay still in one place for too long so the prospect of the seasons repeating themselves scared me!
- Swim in Hampstead Heath Bathing Ponds – A burst of late October sun inspired my friend Sarah and I to brave the pond’s 13°C water in bikinis for a verrrry quick dip, but we left feeling refreshed and very courageous. I love how the ponds are split by gender, and the female-only environment at the women’s pond had a brilliant atmosphere.
- See an opera or ballet at the Royal Opera House – Sisters Georgie & Alex joined me for a theatre dinner in Covent Garden and the Don Quixote ballet, an evening which didn’t disappoint. The Hispanic theme to the costumes, characters and sets gave me serious wanderlust for Andalucía, where I did a dreamy Erasmus semester in 2010. I’m next going to see the Russian ballet Onegin so will probably end up with pangs for a return visit to Russia after that too!
- Buy flowers at Columbia Road Flower Market – My Berliner friend Jonny and I wandered this short street in east London, which is rammed full of flower vendors each Sunday morning and it was nice enough, but in my mind not quite worth the absolute trek there and back from where I live in south-west London… It had long been outstanding on my list of 80 Things Every True Londoner Has Done however so at least I finally saw the hype with my own eyes.
- Eat at Rule’s restaurant (the oldest in London) – Another one from my Londoner list, this restaurant is steeped in history and spectacle, and I recommend a cocktail in their first floor bar before descending to your dinner table (which needs booking far in advance). I liked the overall effect of the restaurant and the waiters and food were brilliant (we had oysters and steak), although I was disappointed at how much the tourists in polo shirts lowered the formal ambience of the restaurant, and it bothered me that there was no background music of any type. So I’m torn and don’t think I would actually recommend it on balance. It’s also very pricey.
- Visit London Aquarium – Luckily the acquarium organises “lates” every now and again, so four uni friends and I dodged the families and young children and instead admired the shark tank and the hypnotising jelly fish with a glass of wine in hand! I’ve certainly been to better acquariums in my lifetime, but seeing sharks in central London was certainly special!
- Watch a Sotheby’s or Christie’s auction – Christie’s also have “lates” open to the public, so I went with my connoisseur friend Simon to watch the billionaires of the world buy ludicrously expensive items of modern art – it was a sobering reminder of the immense wealth that exists in a very tiny portion of society, with single paintings being auctioned for upto 2 million. A mind boggling insight into the world of art investment.
- Go kayaking on the River Thames – FAIL. I see these peaceful kayakers all the time while cycling along the Thames Path to or from work, and I’ve seen them at Twickenham and Richmond too. I must admit I’m struggling to persuade any friends to brave the toxically polluted waters of the Thames with me, hence why this one has eluded me!
Learn something new
- Take a cooking class – My mother and I spent a brilliant day at the Waitrose Cookery School on Finchley Road, learning to make a host of Mexican treats, all topped off with a delicious meal of all our creations, wine and mojitos. As someone who struggles to find time to cook proper meals that often, having a whole day and the experts on hand was perfect and a brilliant mother-daughter day out. I would 100% recommend.
- Learn how to cook a roast dinner (confession: we rarely ate roasts at home growing up, so I never learned) – I approached this in stages, first cooking a delicious vegetarian nut roast (discovered thanks to my friends Hayley and Michael) and then a full lamb roast along the help of some uni friends. A big life achievement!! However my ultimate verdict is that 20 minutes of eating does not merit 2.5 hours of cooking – so I can’t say I’ll be cooking a whole lot more roasts in future!
- Make my own damson vodka (I made a delicious sloe gin a few years ago and I wanted another sweet spirit to finish off dinner parties) – I missed the damson season, so this year I went for blackberry and apple vodka instead. 8 months of brewing later, I strained the nectar-like vodka out of my enormous Kilner jar in preparation for serving to my guests with pudding at my 30th birthday party, to excellent reception!
- Try riding a segway – An uncle and aunt had gifted my sister and I an off-reading Segway experience, and another aunt of ours joined in too, in a pretty Surrey forest. It is thankfully much much easier than it looks, and we were racing around the forest in no time!
- Try boxing – One of the braver sports I’ve tried, I did three taster sessions at three different boxing halls and was pleasantly surprised to not be the only girl! It is by far the most intense class workout I’ve ever had, so is undoubtedly a great get-fit-quick option. I might have even continued, if I hadn’t come across a man who clearly had major anger management issues and was beating the hell out of his sparring partner. I also went to watch a charity boxing match and saw amateurs (including girls) punching each other straight in the face and destroying each other in the name of entertainment, and I resolved not to support such a dangerously violent sport!
- Find out what a ‘barre’ class is and try one – It turns out that barre is a blend of fitness and ballet. I did three classes, and concluded that barre is too tame for me, although I did like the variety and the brilliantly camp male ballerino who taught the classes!
- Try meditation or mindfulness (without falling asleep like on previous attempts!) – I can’t claim to have stayed fully awake for all ten Headspace mindfulness sessions that I tried, but they’re certainly a good way to get to sleep! I think I’ll give this a pass.
- Do a life-drawing class – Absolutely fascinating! I went with my friend Sarah and spent a good 30 minutes feeling like an awkward pervert not knowing where to look, with this brave life model before our eyes, before I relaxed and finally discarded the typical British embarrassment about nudity. It turns out I’m worse at Art than my former artist self would like to claim, but I confess the exercise was far better for mindfulness than any app or audio recording.
- Have a spa day (any excuse!) – My idea of heaven. I had massages in Tallinn (a 29th birthday surprise thanks to my sister!) and the Philippines (when it’s £10/hour, it’s an easy decision!) and a full spa day at Carey’s Manor in the New Forest thanks to my wonderful mother who first got me hooked on massage.
- Make my own ice-cream or sorbet (I used to make lots as a teenager and it became my breakfast staple) – This is suprisingly easy to do but always wows a dinner crowd. So I dug out my 15-year-old ice-cream maker and bulk-made my own coconut ice-cream and orange-cinnamon-Cointreau sorbet in advance of my 30th birthday, where I served it to copious praise!
Keep up my languages
- Watch or read at least one Italian film / play / show / book – With the ambition to keep my languages alive even if not travelling to these countries, I loved watching the Italian films ‘Dogman’, ‘Il cielo cade’, ‘La ragazza nella nebbia’ and Paolo Sorrentino’s brilliant epic ‘Loro’ about Silvio Berlusconi’s love of women. I also read the second Elena Ferrante book ‘Storia del nuovo cognome’.
- Watch or read at least one Spanish film / play / show / book – It turns out that the Philippines is hugely popular with Spaniards, so I managed to practice my Spanish quite a lot in my 3 weeks there. I also got hooked on the Spanish TV series ‘Elite’ , watched the bizarre film ‘Petra’ and read the cute book ‘Amor en Minúscula‘.
- Watch or read at least one Portuguese film / play / show / book – In one of those serendipitous moments you just can’t engineer, my friend Imy and I found ourselves in a Slovenian castle overlooking the sunset over picturesque Lake Bled, listening to a free concert by Portuguese-singing Angolan musician Waldemar Bastos, and I was happy to find I still understood some 6 years after my last Portuguese lesson at Exeter Univeristy! I’ve since started listening to a Machado de Assiss audiobook which is proving slightly harder, but I’m persisting bit by bit!
- Improve my French – I complemented my 3 hours of French classes weekly (thanks to my employer) with the French news podcasts ‘Journal en Français Facile’ and ‘News in Slow French’, the film ‘La belle et la belle’ at London’s Ciné Lumière and the French version of Chekhov’s play ‘The Seagull’ at Earlsfield’s Tara Theatre. Towards the end of the year I also gained a half-French half-Italian boyfriend, so I now have the perfect way to learn!
- Go horse-riding – FAIL. It’s been a little while since I rode, but I used to love cantering across the New Forest once or twice a year when I lived in Hampshire, so I really should organise this.
- Go sailing – I often wish I had more opportunity to practice the skills I learned while getting my Day Skipper qualification in Antigua 4 years ago, so my sailing genius friend Teddy took me on my first ever yacht race from Cowes on the Isle of Wight last summer. We may have finished 4th and it was a brilliant experience to add to my racing CV, having mainly raced in dinghies with my father while growing up.
- Go skiing – One of my favourite sports, possibly even my actual favourite, I was lucky to return to the Inferno ski race in Mürren, Switzerland, for a week, also braving the langlauf and slalom races this time. Read all about it here.
- Try wake-boarding – Siargao in the Philippines was an unexpected location for this one, but I discovered that I’m actually a bit of a natural! Knowing how to waterski and snowboard definitely helps, so I loved it and would definitely do it again.
- Play squash (which I hadn’t touched since school) – At work last year I got riled up by the ‘boys club’ I perceived when I saw a male colleague schmoozing with our male Director over squash matches. It seemed like squash was the active man’s version of golf, another area of professional life which women are often excluded from. I felt frustrated that I’d never properly learned to play, and after 4 classes I discovered that I’m not actually too bad. It doesn’t compare to tennis in terms of enjoyment though, so I’ll stick to my tennis, but at least I now know I can also play squash if I wish.
Get out of my comfort zone
- Do a skydive – An uncharacteristically impulsive decision to jump out of a plane above Slovenia’s Adriatic coastline helped me meet this goal at long last, and it was 10x better than I’d ever dreamed and I could easily see myself getting addicted to the sensation, if it weren’t such an expensive but brief 5-minute experience. Watch the video here.
- Do a bungee jump – Queenstown in New Zealand is the birthplace of the commercial bungee jump so was an obvious choice for this long-standing goal, another first for me like sky-diving. Even briefer than skydiving, but another 10x more adrenaline as I freefell, with the sensation of gravity plummeting me the 47m down to the forest below. I’m now in search of even higher jumps to try as I just loved it. I’m only disappointed that it took me until age 29 to discover that!
- Summit Ben Nevis or Scafell Pike – In my ambition to complete my tour of the three highest peaks of the England, Scotland and Wales, following on from my Welsh 3000s hiking trip up Snowdon in 2015, I went to Scotland this June to summit 1,345m-tall Ben Nevis with my mother (and we were actually struck by lighting on the Ring of Steall hike the next day!) and I’ve just spent a weekend in the Lake District with my father summiting 978m-tall Scafell Pike. Some people attempt all three within 24 hours, but I personally think it a fairly grim prospect and a waste of the stunning mountain ranges they’re each set it. While the peaks are the most famous and therefore most crowded with hikers, the equally beautiful mountains around them are virtually empty and well worth exploring!
- Do a tough mudder – The 8km Brutal Run I completed with my amazingly fit mother in deep midwinter, just 4 days after Christmas Day, was a very proud moment for us. Set in Longmoor, which is used to train the army for goodness sakes, the steep hills, the rough terrain and wading through chest-height mud was unlike any other running race I’ve done, and all the more special to complete it as a mother-daughter team!
My long-suffering family and friends accompanied me on many of these goals, making it also a very sociable list to keep, rather than a self-centred exercise which some lists can risk becoming. It certainly kept me on my toes! Although I sometimes wonder if tackling the list distracted me from less appealing but important activities like my Master’s thesis or long hours at work, I’m quite sure that my 80-year-old self will look back on my 20s feeling thrilled that I made the very most of every spare moment and prioritised enjoying life and having new experiences. This by no means implies that I’ve given up on the idea of having any fun in my 30s – I have lots of exciting plans in store, but I’m going to take a more spontaneous approach this year!